Webinar with Lena Lid Falkman (Sweden): Tips and tricks for distant Leadership

Historically, remote communication has existed in Sweden for centuries. There are over 200,000 islands in Sweden, approximately 24,000 of which form the so-called Stockholm Archipelago, an island area near Stockholm. Fishermen who lived on the neighboring islands often preferred to shout or signal rather than sail to visit each other. Another reason for this was that the Baltic Sea isn’t particularly calm for most of the year. Perhaps, this also caused Swedish tradition of not covering windows with curtains, like we do in Russia, for example. So, it turns out that nobody is better than the Swedes at talking about operating remotely.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the need to use virtual environments for communication. The current situation not only places new demands on communication, but also creates fresh opportunities.

On May 26, Stockholm School of Economics in Russia held a webinar with Lena Lid Falkman (SSE lecturer). For 20 years her work has been focused on leadership and communication while she has been researching how technologies change our lives, work and leadership methods. She also wrote a book, which hasn’t been translated into Russian yet, on virtual meetings and virtual team building, remote leadership and working from home. Valuable knowledge these days!

Technology is changing our lives – a cliché, yes, but behind it there is a real revolution in our working life, which has affected the principles and practices of working activity. With the availability of gadgets and the spread of wireless communication, our work is no longer tied to a specific place or time period. Thanks to technology, we are able to avoid a lot of inconveniences (which, however, were often caused by other technologies): traffic jams, long distances, writing letters by hand...

How and why is technology changing the way we work, how is it changing our lifestyle, work activities and leadership principles? These are the questions that Lena Lid Falkman tried to answer.

One advantage of the current situation is clear: while staying at home, we are still able to keep in touch with the rest of the world. But different people divide and integrate their working and personal lives in different ways. There are several types of people's characters that can be conventionally called: Separators, Integrators and Switchers.

Total Separators work productively only at their desk strictly during the specified "office" working hours. For a Place Separator it is absolutely unimportant, when the work occurs, the main thing to be at a definite workplace. Time Separators work strictly in the "office" hours, while they are not tied to a particular work location.

The second category, Integrators, fully mix work and personal life, whether at home or in an office. Among them there are Integrators who like to work from home, but do not like to deal with privacy issues at work. And also Integrators, who clearly separate work and personal matters, depending on where they are, in the office or at home respectively.

The third category Switchers includes those who can move back and forth from the former category to the latter.
However, the situation with Covid is forcing everyone to adapt their character type to the new conditions.

"In order to maintain your mental balance and not let the work consume your whole life, while not being distracted and doing your work effectively, you have to ask yourself two questions: where do I want to work and when do I have to work?" Lena Falkman says.

She advises to choose two places in one’s home where the work will be most productive, in addition to some recreational areas that are free from work duties. In addition, Lena recommends that the time saved on duties and trips to one’s workplace be devoted to your personal routine rituals.

The same a manager should be asking members of their team if he or she wants to maximize efficiency of the employees and increase their healthy attitude towards their duties.

"There is no bad or good behavioral strategy. They're just different. The main thing is to create what’s comfortable and primarily works for you. It's also important that it's effective for your colleagues, your employees and your family," Lena comments.

Apart from working independently, we also have to work together with other people. Most of today's challenges are linked to problem-solving, which requires the expertise of different employees. The technology of parallel remote work helps to resolve issues like that. Here it is important for a leader to organize access to working materials and an acceptable structure of joint work with virtual documents and folders, as well as to assign assess to use and edit certain documents.

The number of virtual meetings is also increasing, and therefore it is necessary to develop a different way of thinking. For example, at IKEA, all meetings are planned for 45 minutes, not for the usual 1 hour, so in the remaining time it is possible to communicate with your colleagues, have coffee, reply to emails. There is more flexibility when it comes to virtual meetings now, their availability to participants is higher. And this advantage should be used, with management and other meeting’s participants promptly involving specialists to address specific issues.

Virtual meetings also have their disadvantages: socializing between co-workers is gone, and we are losing the "glue" that usually connects the team. That's why we shouldn't limit virtual meetings to only discussing "dry" topics, Lena warns and encourages managers to organize virtual meetings for the informal social communication in addition to strictly business gatherings.

During virtual meetings, the leader must take on the role of facilitator. In case of distance-managing one’s team, it is also important to build trust and, in case of virtual communication, it would be created on the basis of activities that the employees implement together.

"Be on time, be clear, transparent structure and organization of the work together and the keeping of the promises made are important
factors in the formation of trusting teams, because in this case, not only the social trust is formed, but the trust based on tasks completion," Lena explains. - A leader, in turn, needs to show stability, transparency and communication skills."

There is a formula for remote leadership, where the leader must be SMART:
S (social) – be communicative at a distance
M (meeting-trained) – organize meetings properly, be structured, be consistent and persistent
A (available) – be available so that employees know who and how to contact in case they need help
R (result oriented) – be results oriented
T (task based trust) – focus on the employee's performance rather than on the process or other social aspects of task completion.

"Your punctuality, structure and pre-planned approach will allow other people and employees in the organization to see you as a good leader," Lena concludes.

It is very important to determine within your organization what and how many channels to use for communication. Clear structure gives understanding, demonstrates what channels are necessary, where and what information comes from - use chat for immediate communication, design platforms for general work, emails for external audience, - and also who and what said channels are exactly for.

"Choose the right channels and remember that the structure of documents and project updates should be uniform. Pay attention to what people should be present at what meetings," Lena advises.

When it comes to technical problems, Lena appeals to patience and calm. It is not always possible to understand who is talking at the moment during conference call, so she advises to call each other by name and say your own name when you start talking.

"Leaders and employees in remote operation firstly need to be able to manage themselves. To develop self-directed leadership. By organizing your life, you can organize the life of other people. You need to be able to prioritize and help your employees do the same. Build trust based on task completion, not just on social communication," concludes Lena Falkman.

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Lena Led Falkman
Lena Led Falkman